On Shut Up We’re Talking #8 I said that Player versus Player should be the richest and most fulfilling experience in an MMO. It should also not sacrifice or be completely separated from the PvE experience. I firmly believe this.
PvP in MMOs should be awesome.
It is not.
At least not right now, not for the vast majority of MMO players.
But first, why am I insisting on this all? Why do I believe that PvP should be so damn good? What is wrong with PvE? And aren’t I a card carrying CareBear?
Yes, I am primarily a PvE player and I enjoy the PvE experience. I have been known, on occasion, to run screaming from the room at the mention of PvP… or at least what PvP amounts to in some games.
But after 21 years of online gaming I do not have to think very long to pick out an example of a PvP environment that was exemplary.
In 1988 there was a multiplayer online game on the GEnie online service called Air Warrior. It was a real time, multi-player combat flight simulator. It was primitive. It was low resolution. (I played it on a Mac SE!) It could get as laggy as Qeynos Harbor.
But it was a persistent online world where you flew against live players and it was more fun than any flight simulator I have ever played since.
And the key was a large population of players of different skill levels. Flight sims have become much more sophisticated, but nothing computer controlled has beat the excitement of live players. You couldn’t see who was flying a plane, just that there was a P-51 8,000 feet above you. It might have been some noob, or in might have been Tango Circus (3799) looking for the next in a long line of kills that night.
Stellar Emperor and MegaWars III were very addictive (if costly) PvP games back in the day. There were much better looking space empire games available to play on your computer at the time, but live opponents made for an more engaging game.
Or, getting closer to this century and a bit further from when some of you were born, think of any given first person shooter. I find the online environment much more challenging and exciting than a scripted game. Half-Life 2 is cool looking, but it is Counter Strike that has a huge fanbase that plays every night.
PvP is what drives the popular (6+ million subscribers) XBox Live and even the Wii is finally getting into the PvP act with Mario Strikers Charged.
Heck, I even prefer online backgammon to any version against the computer. Now if I could just punish people who quit the game when they are losing.
But to get PvP to take its place in the world of MMOs, a world financed primarily by the PvE audience, two things will have to happen.
PvP needs to evolve
The problem is that when it comes to MMOs, PvP is still evolving.
I think we are seeing some experimentation right now with things like the PvP servers for EverQuest II. And we will see a lot more of change and experimentation going forward. As mentioned on the show, Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, and Pirates of the Burning Sea are all going to have some flavor of PvP that will hopefully advance the cause of PvP becoming a much more integral part of MMOs.
We are past the age when free for all PvP can be considered a good idea, a concept covered well over on Nerfbat a month back. PvP cannot be a noob ganking bloodbath an expect to drive a successful game. Nor can PvP be an arena or a battle ground over in left field and expect people to take it seriously. Some games, like EVE, have been exploring a new ground, but they are not there yet because there is another side to this coin, a side that they ignore.
PvE needs to evolve
One of the problems with PvP is that PvE is not at all on the same page in most games. How often does something beyond the basic skills you learn in PvE apply to a PvP match up? In current MMOs, the PvE game really does nothing to get you ready for any sort of PvP content. You have to start playing the game all over again… a different game.
If PvP is going to be an integrated part of the game, the PvE content needs to help with that integration.
EVE Online, which I said was blazing a trail for PvP ideas is falling down in this regard. What you learn about fighting by running missions and killing rats won’t do you much good against a live player. You need only go check out the forums to see recommendations for fitting out ships. They are usually quite clearly defined as “for missions” or “for pvp” and don’t mix one up with the other.
Evolving PvE means that you have to make mobs that are more complex. You cannot have mobs that just stand and fight to the death, mobs that just sit there minding their own business while you finish of their neighbor, or mobs that are “harder” merely by virtue of dealing more damage and having more hit points. (Hey, we had some of that in EverQuest. What happened?)
This is not easy, of course, and it means changes to the accepted system of PvE encounters. If you have gnolls that don’t just stand there and take it but who run away looking for back up, you cannot have a huge number of gnolls standing around in close proximity the way you do in Antonica in EverQuest II. The gnolls would feast upon the noobs and you wouldn’t need a noob ganking PvP system to drive them away, your NPCs would take care of that.
If you cannot have masses of mobs hanging out waiting to be slain piecemeal, then you have to get away from the “kill a bunch of mob X” sort of quests that so many people hold up as the bane of the PvE experience in high fantasy MMOs in the first place.
Then suddenly you are recreating the whole PvE experience to align it with the PvP experience and make a single game that has both elements.
If done right, you won’t sacrifice the PvE experience in favor of PvP. You will make PvE better and make it applicable to the PvP experience.
And that is a lot to ask. But if you don’t go there, then PvP and PvE will remain divided gaming experiences.
I will end this up where I started by saying that I think that PvP should be the richest, fullest, most satisfying part of the MMO gaming experience. I won’t commit for all MMOs, but for most out there today I am willing to stake that this isn’t the case right. What comes to your mind when I write “PvP” almost assuredly is not, there being already so much baggage attached to the term.
And PvP won’t fulfill that high role for some time to come. But I think that the players and, more importantly, the developers know that these games need to get to this point some day if they are going to be the rich and immersive games that we want them to be.
But some day, when it is done right, chances are you won’t even think of it as a PvP or PvE experience.
You will just think that it is a really good game.